For a free night at the local Hilton, an exclusive interview, and a chilled bottle of wine, the New York Times’ Thomas L. Friedman will come to your country and portray you as a beacon of reason or freedom in a dark world. He’s done this for Saudi Arabia, for China, for Iran. Now he’s doing it for the Arab Spring.
The Arab Spring, says Friedman, “leaves me with a smile on my face and a pit in my stomach.” The smile comes from “witnessing a whole swath of humanity losing its fear and regaining its dignity.” The pit comes from “a rising worry that the Arab Spring may have been both inevitable and too late.” Friedman believes that the Arab Spring is a flourishing of freedom throughout the Middle East, an “existential” awakening. How does he know that? Because one of his Libyan friends told him so: “A Libyan friend remarked to me the other day that he was watching Arab satellite TV out of Benghazi, Libya, and a sign held aloft at one demonstration caught his eye. It said in Arabic: ‘Ana Rajul’ — which translates to ‘I am a man.’ If there is one sign that sums up the whole Arab uprising, it’s that one.”
Well, no. If there’s one sign that sums up the entire Arab uprising, it’s this one: a picture of Mubarak with a Jewish star across his forehead. This is an anti-tyrant movement, yes – it’s driven by anger over poor living standards and lack of economic opportunity. But it’s much more than that – it’s a pan-Islamic, anti-Semitic, anti-Christian movement based on a Nasser-esque Pan-Arabism.
Friedman misses the point of the “I am a man” sign. Being a man in the Muslim world is not about acting as a free agent. It is about taking your place amongst your fathers in the pantheon of Islamism. When you become a man in Islam, certain obligations fall upon you: the obligation of circumcision, the obligation to pray five times a day, the obligation to undergo ritual washing. When you become a man in Islamism, certain attendant obligations fall upon you as well: you must hate Israel with all your heart and all your soul; you must despise Christians; you must believe that America is responsible for the world’s ills. The same protesters who claim they are men rape Lara Logan while shouting “Jew, Jew!” They burn down Coptic Christian churches in Cairo. They embrace the Muslim Brotherhood.
Republicans and Democrats both buy into the starry-eyed Woodrow Wilson philosophy that all human beings yearn to be free in the Western, liberal fashion. George W. Bush stated in his second inaugural address, “Eventually, the call of freedom comes to every mind and every soul.” Barack Obama has said much the same thing.
There is no doubt that every human being wants to be free. But free to do what? Western freedom is based on the notion of individualism – the idea that we should each make our own choices. But Islamic freedom denounces such freedom as impure and problematic. Essentially, Islam contends that submission to Islam is the source of freedom – freedom from the un-Islamic parts of human nature.